Washington County, MD
Hagerstown, MD - 1940
Last Update: Oct. 9, 2012
The following historical and informational sketch of Hagerstown, MD is from "Maryland, A Guide to the Old Line State", published in 1940. The information was compiled and written by "the workers of the Writer's Program of the Works Project Administration in the State of Maryland" and is part of the "American Guide Series". ~ Steve
HAGERSTOWN (560 alt., 30,861 pop.), seat of Washington County, lies almost in the center of the Hagerstown Valley near the entrances to the Shenandoah and Cumberland valleys.
Two of the most modern buildings from the point of architectural design are the new City Hall, a five-story brick and stone structure of neo-classic design, built in 1938 on the site of the old Town Hall, which had served the city as muncipal headquarters and market since 1822, and the Municipal Market House, whose simplicity of line and careful balance of mass give pleasure to the functionalist.
The offices of the Mayor and City Council, the Police Department and various city boards are housed in the City Hall.
The town is an architectural composite. Around the Public Square and near it are business buildings and hotels of solid late nineteenth-century design and construction, and a sprinkling of modern buildings and metal-trimmed shop fronts. Less than a block from the square on narrow tree-lined Antietam Street are squat brick and stone houses of the early German-speaking inhabitants. Close to the town's newest hotel rise the low steeples of severely plain red brick or white frame churches, used by Dunkards and United Brethren for their religious services. In the older sections of town, particularly along South Prospect and North Potomac Streets and Summit Avenue, are houses of Georgian Colonial and Classic Revival design, set far back on spacious lawns behind the trees for which the city is notable. Even the smaller new houses have gardens and many of them also are shaded by trees. All have the trim well-cared-for look seen only in places where the majority of the inhabitants own their own homes and are proud of them. This appreciation of growing things and of the natural beauty of the valley stems back to Jonathan Hager, who even stipulated in the deeds to some of the lots on the lower side of hilly South Prospect Street that houses built there should not be more than a story and a half high—thus preserving the view of the distant Blue Ridge for the fortunate owners of lots on the upper side. (Land along that street is now too valuable for such restrictions and the clause has been allowed to lapse by common consent.) The school buildings also have the appearance of having been planned primarily for use, rather than to exhibit the architects' skill with ornament. The churches, for the most part, are of the types popular about 1900 and the decades before it.
The pleasant residential character of the city has not been destroyed by the presence of factories—largely on the outskirts—producing organs, furniture, flour, sandblasting equipment, cement, airplanes, shoes, paper boxes, and other products. Indeed, the factories are in part responsible for many of the city's most admirable characteristics; such products as organs require craftsmen with skills that place them close to the professional class. Certainly it is the presence of the organ makers that has helped to produce the Hagerstown Symphony Orchestra, an organization whose sixty-eight members are not professional musicians, in the usual sense of the term, but whose concerts attract audiences of a thousand. Not all members of the orchestra live in Hagerstown; some come from Frederick and from Pennsylvania towns. But the nucleus is here and the rehearsals, held twice a week, take place in Hagerstown. The first concerts of the group as now organized were given in 1935.
A key to the character of Hagerstown is found in the advertising pamphlets of the Chamber of Commerce, where as much stress is placed on the possession of a fine library and museum, of a full-time health officer, of paid welfare work, of the publicly owned power plant, the modern schools, and the musical and dramatic clubs as on the advantages the city can offer as a site for factories.
Quite as important as manufacturing to local prosperity are banking, shipping, distributing, and other services for the farmers, orchardists, and dairymen of the prosperous valley. Hagerstown's relations to the county of which it is the seat are unusual. County and city officials work closely together in making various public utilities as available to country as to Hagerstown folk. A traveling library service is only one of the far-sighted devices for welding the prosperous countryside to the city that depends on it.
Hagerstown boasts two active dramatic groups. The Potomac Play-makers is a little theater group which presents on the average of four full-length plays annually, a number of one-act plays and a 'frolic'. The plays are presented on a season-ticket basis. The group is sponsored by the Women's Club of Hagerstown, and the plays are presented on a stage built by members of the cast in the auditorium of the club. Officers of the theater group, with the exception of the president who is appointed, are elected by the membership. All profits are shared.
The Alsatia Club, a men's social organization, gives a three-evening performance annually of the Alsatia Minstrels. Club members manage the business end of the production but draw upon the community for talent. The club also stages the annual 'Mummers' Parade, a Halloween frolic which draws thousands of spectators from Hagerstown and the surrounding country.
Jonathan Hager, a German, came to this place in 1737 and was granted a tract of land that he named Hager's Delight. Here he built a log house with an arched stone cellar. “Capt. Hager,” wrote a historian, “was frequently assailed by the savages, and his family found the cellar a most useful asylum. It was often necessary to protect the dairy-maids with armed men while engaged in milking the cows.”
Gradually other settlers arrived and in 1762 Elizabeth Town, named for Hager's wife, was laid out. Within a decade there were a hundred dwellings and the place was an important trading post.
Life at this period was hard but the settlers in this region, as elsewhere in Maryland, displayed the hearty levity in naming their tracts that was a characteristic of people in the far western frontier camps of later days. Among the farms of this vicinity in Hager's day were: Agreed to Have it Shared, All that's Left, Discontent, I am Glad it is no Worse, Love in a Village, Near the Navel, Scared from Home, Search Well and You Will Find, The Third Time of Asking, Trouble Enough, The Widow's Last Shift.
By January 1814 the population of the village was about 2,500 and the assembly passed "an act to change the name of Elizabeth Town in Washington County, to Hager's Town, and incorporate the same."
One of the most serious calamities in the history of the city was an outbreak of Asiatic cholera in 1832. The disease had been brought from Europe, largely by immigrants coming to take up lands in the West, and it spread far inland along important travel routes. Medical science of that day was ignorant of the cause of the disease and the manner of its transmission, but William D. Bell, the Hagerstown moderator, saw a connection between the disease and filth and instituted a vigorous cleanup campaign in the town. Householders were exhorted to tidy-up cellars, yards, gutters, and vacant lots, and Bell's inspectors ranged everywhere to see that the orders were carried out. How much this activity helped to check the spread of the epidemic can only be surmised, but Bell's theory was sound.
Hagerstown was not in a plantation district with many slaves, so in 1861 a majority of its citizens voted against secession. The first year of the war brought a local boom because of the demand for foodstuffs, but the town's position as a supply point later had disadvantages; in July 1863 General John McCausland appeared with 1,500 Confederate troops and demanded $20,000 and 20,000 complete sets of clothing. The town raised the money and in part filled the demand for clothing. After the Confederate forces were defeated at Gettysburg, Hagerstown was for a time between the Confederate and the Union forces and the inhabitants hourly expected to have their homes destroyed. But the only incident was a cavalry skirmish in the streets.
The close of the war found both city and county impoverished, and it was not until completion (1867) of the 24-mile spur connecting Hagerstown with the main line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at Weverton that there was any real business revival. This road decreased the hauling distance to Baltimore by about 63 miles. In June 1872 the first train from Baltimore on the Western Maryland Railroad track reached Hagerstown, cutting the distance by another 20 miles. On September 4, 1880, the first passenger train from the South arrived over the Shenandoah Valley Railroad. The Western Maryland made this a division point and established offices here. The railroads, giving the town transportation routes into important agricultural areas and outlets to one of the chief ports on the Atlantic Coast, started it on its way to becoming the third city of Maryland. Between 1890 and 1900 the population increased more rapidly than it had in the entire preceding century; and the increase continued in the following decade.
Points of Interest
1. The Gruber Almanac Company Office is at 9 N. Potomac St. Here is published the Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack. John Gruber, born in Pennsylvania in 1768, settled in Hagers-Town, as it was then spelled, and in 1797 put out the first issue of the Almanack—in German. From 1798 to 1918 the publication appeared in both German and English. Until shortly before his death in 1857 Gruber did both the editing and typesetting.
The style and general format of the Almanack has changed little in fourteen decades; old style woodcuts are still used. Its "conjectures of the weather" for each month—which have proved about 60 per cent accurate through the years—have been used by generations of farmers in many States. There is always a 'Large Multiplication Table' and a rhyme that lists the presidents. A century ago the Almanack contained essays on 'Female Virtue and Pursuits,' 'Faithless Husbands,' and similar popular topics; recent issues give scientific advice on farm problems. The average annual circulation is approximately 150,000. It is said that William T. Hamilton, while he was Governor of Maryland, always consulted the Almanack before setting the date for a hanging in an attempt to insure good weather for the popular event.
The original printing office, torn down years ago, stood on North Potomac Street not far from the present headquarters.
2. The Hagerstown Day Nursery and Kindergarten (open 10-11:30 and 2:30-4 daily), Washington and Locusts Sts., is in a two-story brick building erected in 1842. The institution had its beginning in 1815, when it was known as the Charity School and provided an elementary education for children whose parents could not pay for it. When free education became general it undertook its present work of providing nursing care and kindergarten instruction for children whose mothers are employed.
3. Zion Reformed Church, Potomac and Church Sts., was built in 1774 as the German Reformed Church; successive alterations have greatly changed its early appearance. While dressing logs for this early church, Jonathan Hager, founder of Hagerstown, was accidentally killed in his sawmill. The present gray limestone building has tall narrow windows and a square tower with an open belfry. During the Civil War General George Custer one day climbed to the bell tower to take observations. Suddenly becoming a mark for sharpshooters, he abandoned his position with more haste than dignity. In the graveyard back of the church are buried Jonathan Hager (1719-75); John Gruber (1768-1857), founder of The Hagerstown Almanac; and Peter Humrichouse, who by his timely dash from Philadelphia supplied Washington's troops with much needed ammunition for the siege of Yorktown.
4. In Cannon Park, Potomac St. and North Ave., stands a bronze cannon made in 1757 at Douai, France, by Beranger, leading French ordnance manufacturer. The story is that it was used by Napoleon's army during the Peninsular Wars, later captured by the Spanish at Cordova, and eventually sent to Fort Morro, Cuba. After the American forces captured this stronghold during the Battle of Santiago (1898), the cannon was given to Hagerstown because Washington County had more volunteers for service in the Spanish-American War than had any other county in the State. By the cannon is a pyramid of cannon balls, some of them specially manufactured to replace those carried off by souvenir collectors.
5. Oak Hill (private), 921 The Terrace, a rambling three-story frame house of the ornate Victorian Gothic style, was the home of William T. Hamilton who, after several years in both houses of Congress, became the Governor of Maryland (1879). Sunk in the driveway is the old slave block that formerly stood where the Antietam St. entrance to the Hotel Hamilton now is. Around this block planters made their bids for slaves; standing on it, politicians made their bids for the support of the electorate. Both Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay used the stone as a rostrum in 1830.
6. The Fairchild Aircraft Corporation Factory (visited by permission), SW. corner Pennsylvania Ave. and Park Lane, builds many types of airplanes ranging from swift single-seat racers to Baby Clippers. The company's first manufacturing plant was built in 1926 by Lewis and Henry Reisner and Ammon H. Kreider. While in their teens the Reisners had begun to build and experiment with airplanes in an old shack back of their home at 449 Salem Avenue. With the financial assistance of their father, they soon had a completely equipped shop for servicing planes, principally Wacos. The first plane they built, a low-winged racer, won lie air meet at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial celebration. In 1928 a larger plant was opened by the firm, then called the Kreider-Reisner Airplane Company. After the death of Ammon Kreider at the Detroit Air Meet in April 1929, the company was sold to the Fairchild Corporation, which moved operations to this place at the end of 1934.
7. The M.P. MÖller Organ Works (open to visitors during business hours, except Sat.; guides), 403 N. Prospect St., a group of two and three story buildings, is one of the largest factories in the world devoted exclusively to the manufacture of pipe organs. More than 6,000 organs built here are now in use in homes, schools, halls, and churches in many parts of the globe.
Some of the techniques employed in this factory are centuries old; others have been perfected recently. Pipe voicing, a very old craft, requires not only years of training but high talent. Each voicer specializes in a particular tone group. The new pipe is placed in a rack behind a battered, workshop keyboard, and its length is altered until it has exactly the right pitch. Many minute adjustments must be made to perfect the tone, and in this operation the pipe voicer displays his skill and talent. After pipes in each tone group are voiced, another specialist blends the groups into an harmonious whole.
The smallest organ made in this factory, a portable model, has 197 pipes; the larger organs have up to 5,000 pipes, varying in length, as a rule, from three-eighths of an inch to 16 feet, though pipes 32 feet long have been made. In a modern organ real pipes are not visible, though large gilded tubes are often used as decorations. The console is seldom attached to the organ, since electrical control permits arrangements more suitable to the interior of the auditorium in which the organ is installed. Except for the small portable models, every organ made here is more or less designed individually for the place in which it is to be installed.
Electrical control has brought many innovations in the technique of organ manufacture. The demand during the 1920s for movie organs was responsible for changes in the wind chest; these organs had to have higher air pressure to produce sharper effects. Few movie organs are now produced.
Besides pipe voicers and electricians, the factory employs specialists in many complex operations, including a special curing of wood and hides.
Mathias Peter MÖller (1855-1937), who came to America from Denmark in 1872, constructed a pipe organ for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 and in 1880 opened this factory. A constant experimenter, he had just developed a new type of wind chest that improved the tonal quality of the instrument Moller's experimental work and his philanthropic activities won him such wide recognition that in 1926 he was made a Knight of the Ancient Order of Dannebrog.
8. Mt. Prospect, 201 W.Washington St., is a long two-and-a-half-story house built in 1789 by the Virginian, Nathaniel Rochester (1751-1831), a colonel in the Revolutionary Army. Rochester first operated a nail factory here and later became the town's first banker. In 1811 Rochester moved to New York State where he established a settlement on land now occupied by the city bearing his name.
In 1850 Mt. Prospect was purchased by Dr. Howard Kennedy, son of Thomas Kennedy, author of the 'Jew Bill.' About three days after the Battle of Antietam (September 17-18, 1862) as Mrs. Kennedy and her small daughter Annie were watching the dreary procession of wounded pass by, a badly wounded Union officer collapsed before their door. Mrs. Kennedy had the young man brought into the house and cared for him. The officer was Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., later a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His father, after a frantic search of the battlefield, finally found his son whom he had given up for dead. He commemorated the event in the poem My Search for the Captain.
9. The Washington County Free Library (hours 9-9 weekdays), 21 Summit Ave., is a two-story concrete structure with limestone front and trim, and an entrance loggia flanked by Ionic columns. The building houses an institution established in 1901 through the efforts of a clergyman, a banker, a papermaker, two lawyers, a farmer, and a storekeeper, public-spirited men who had already been impressed by the success of other county institutions. Its sound and progressive development was largely the work of the first librarian, Miss Mary L. Titcomb. One of the first county libraries in the United States, it began service in a section where bookstores were unknown, where there was only one small private high school, and where reading was looked upon as the privilege of the idle and the rich. But as soon as the doors were opened, everybody wanted to “join the Library”. A countrywoman with her first book wrapped in her starched gingham apron remarked as she left the building, “It's a great day when poor folks like us can take home such handsome books.” And a rural boy who had happened to draw one of Shakespeare's plays, returned it with the request: “Give me another by that same man; I think he's a right good writer.”
Service to outlying districts was first initiated by placing cases of books in general stores, schools, and private homes. After a few years direct delivery to borrowers was begun; a two-horse wagon equipped with outside bookshelves began to make tours even in remote country districts. Eventually the plan was widely copied abroad as well as in America. The institution now possesses more than 37,000 volumes, employs three trucks in their distribution, and has several permanent branches. The work is supported by endowments and gifts, as well as by city and county funds.
10. Millstone Circle, usually called Park Circle, is just north of City Park at the intersection of Virginia and Summit Avenues and Prospect Street. Stones, some dating back as far as 1791, from various old mills of Washington County, form the circle.
The principal entrance of City Park, formerly the Heyser estate, is at the corner of Virginia and Reynolds Aves.; the park covers 50 acres of rolling woodland, and has a lake, several springs, and a number of natural streams. Swans, Canada geese, Chinese geese, and mallard ducks nest on the island in the lake on the shores of which are Japanese azaleas and rock gardens. Recreational facilities include baseball diamonds, two tennis courts, a playground, a bandstand, and a small zoo housing a number of small native animals.
11. The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (open 10-5 weekdays, except Monday; 1-6 Sundays and holidays) in the City Park at the edge of the lake was opened to the public in September 1931, the gift to Hagerstown and Washington County of Anna Brugh Singer, a native of Hagerstown and wife of the American painter, William H, Singer,Jr. The museum receives $5,000 annually from the city of Hagerstown and $2,500 annually from Washington County. The staff does extensive educational work, which includes gallery talks, lectures, special loan exhibitions, educational lectures for children, and loans of art reference material to schools and clubs. The permanent collection of the museum includes 204 examples of sculpture, painting, and the graphic arts. Among the artists represented in the collection are: Gutzon Borglum, Paul Gauguin, Constantin Meunier, Auguste Rodin, Gustave Courbet, Childe Hassam, Charles W. Hawthorne, J.B.Jongkind, Jonas Lie, Adolphe Monticelli, John Noble, Alfred Stevens, John H. Twachtmen, Andre Derain, and Max Liebermann.
Also on display are Jonathan Hager's furniture, silver, and glassware.
12. In Rose Hill Cemetary, main entrance near the corner of Potomac St. and Willow Lane, are the graves of 5,000 Confederates killed in the battles of Antietam and South Mountain, and the Confederate Monument erected in 1877, seven years after the General Assembly had appropriated $5,000 to bring the bodies to Hagerstown. The principal figure is of marble and represents Hope leaning upon an anchor. It stands on a shaft of dappled brown Scottish granite with a base of American granite.
In the same cemetery is buried Percy Hiram Maxim (1860-1936), inventor of the Maxim gun silencer. He was the son of Hudson Maxim, inventor of the machine gun bearing his name and of other devices.
The Kennedy Monument in the SE. corner of the cemetery marks the grave of Thomas Kennedy, merchant, lawyer, and poet who spent years fighting for the passage of legislation that would grant Jews the civil rights enjoyed by gentiles. Kennedy won his tight in 1826. This monument was erected in 1919 by prominent Maryland Jews. Its tall white marble shaft bears a history of Kennedy's life.
13. The three-story stone Hager Mill (open to visitors), in Hager Park, Frederick and Hager Sts., was built in 1791. Most of it is now a furniture storehouse, but it still looks much as it did in early days and the water wheel has been preserved.
Key for Hagerstown Map
Left Map: 1. Gruber Almanac Co. 2. Day Nursery 8. Mt. Prospect 9. Washington County Library 12. Rose Hill Cemetary 13. Hager Mill
Right Map: 3. Zion Reformed Church 4. Cannon Park 5. Oak Hill 6. Fairchild Aircraft Co. 7. Moller Organ Co. 10. Millstone Circle 11. Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Points of Interest in the Environs
Old Conococheague Bridge, 7.1 miles; Stafford Hall, 10.4 miles (see Tour 2d); Pangborn Corporation Plant (see Tour 2C); St James School, 5.9 miles; Antietam battlefield, 12.8 miles (see Tour 2D); Fiddlersburg, old-fashioned village, 2.4 miles; Jacob's Lutheran Church, 10.7 miles (see Tour 17).
Railroad Stations: Washington and Walnut Sts. for Pennsylvania R.R. and Norfolk & Western R.R.; Washington and McPherson Sts. for Western Maryland Ry.; Antietam St. and Summit Ave. for Baltimore & Ohio R.R.
Bus Station: 55 E. Washington St. for Blue Ridge lines.
Airport: Municipal Airport 5 miles north on US 11.
Busses: local: Fare 8¢: book of 10 tickets 50¢, free transfers.
Taxis: Fares, 15¢ and 20¢ in city limits.
Accommodations: Several modern hotels, also tourist homes and camps.
Traffic Regulations: 25 mph.; Mulberry St. one-way going north and Locust St going south; parking meters in business section, 5¢ an hr.
Information Service: 5 E. Washington St in the Alexander Hotel Building; A.A.A. in Hotel Hamilton, 92 W. Washington St.
Radio Station: WJEJ (1210 kc).
Motion Picture Houses: 4.
Athletics: City Park, Virginia Ave. near Reynolds Ave.; Y.M.C.A., corner North Potomac St and East Ave.; Wheaton Park (Negro), Charles St between Pennsylvania Ave. and North Prospect St.; Hager Park, Frederick St and the Parkway, children's playground and facilities for picnicking.
Swimming Pools: Municipal (outdoor), 730 Frederick St. at B.& 0. R.R., open May 30 to Labor Day, 15¢ and 25¢; Y.M.C.A., North Potomac St and East Ave.
Baseball Fields: Municipal Stadium, Washington County League Field, Parkway near Hager Park.
Tennis Courts, public: 2, free, in City Park, Reynolds and Virginia Aves.
Golf Courses: Municipal, East Washington St. and Cleveland Ave., 9 holes, greens fee 50¢; Fountain Head Country Club, 18 holes, Middleburg Pike, near city.
Washington County Free Library: 21 Summit Ave., daily 9 to 9.
Annual Events: 10-day race meet, Fairgrounds (half-mile track), May; annual agricultural exhibit, Fairgrounds, 4 days following Labor Day; Mummers' Parade, Halloween.
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